This article titled “Mount Agung: 100,000 told to evacuate as Bali volcano spews huge ash cloud” was written by Kate Lamb in Jakarta, for theguardian.com on Monday 27th November 2017 17.30 Asia/Kolkata
A large eruption of Bali’s restless Mount Agung volcano could be imminent, Indonesian officials have warned, saying 100,000 people need to evacuate the area.
So far, 40,000 people have been moved away from the volcano and tens of thousands of travellers have been stranded due to airport closures.
Mount Agung has been spewing volcano ash with increasing intensity since last Tuesday, but after heightened seismic activity and confirmation the volcano is shifting into the magmatic phase, authorities raised the warning level to the maximum level 4 alert on Monday morning.
Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency has strongly urged people to immediately evacuate the designated exclusion zone, which has been extended to an 8-10km radius of the volcano.
“We ask people in the danger zone to evacuate immediately because there’s a potential for a bigger eruption,” said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB).
Up to 40,000 people had been evacuated but a further 60,000 also needed to move, he said. The governor of Bali said later that 150,000 could be called on to evacuate.
“Not all residents have evacuated yet. There are those (who haven’t evacuated) because their farm animals haven’t been evacuated yet. There are those who feel they are safe,” Sutopo said, adding that security personnel were trying to persuade people to leave but they could be evacuated by force.
Authorities also warned of dangerous mudflows.
Video released by Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency showed water and volcanic debris flowing down the slopes of Mount Agung as rain fell on the island.
Sutopo said people should stay away from rivers because mudflows can move rapidly and are a frequent killer during volcanic eruptions.
Putu Sulasmi fled with her husband and other family members to a sports hall that is serving as an evacuation centre.
“We came here on motorcycles. We had to evacuate because our house is just 3 miles from the mountain. We were so scared with the thundering sound and red light,” she told Associated Press.
The family had stayed at the same sports centre in September and October when the volcano’s alert was at the highest level for several weeks but it didn’t erupt. They had returned to their village about a week ago.
“If it has to erupt let it erupt now rather than leaving us in uncertainty. I’ll just accept it if our house is destroyed,” she said.
Airport spokesman Air Ahsanurrohim said 445 flights were cancelled, stranding about 59,000 travellers. The closure was in effect until Tuesday morning though officials said the situation would be reviewed every six hours.
Instrumental measurement of Mt Agung began after the last big eruption occurred in 1963, an event that lasted a year and killed more than 1,000 people.
Bali is Indonesia’s top tourist destination, with its Hindu culture, surf beaches and lush green interior attracting about 5 million visitors a year.
Some flights to and from Bali were cancelled on Saturday and Sunday but most had continued to operate normally as the towering ash clouds were moving east toward the neighbouring island of Lombok.
Bali’s governor, Made Pastika, said he was urging hotels on the island to allow stranded foreign tourists to stay free of charge, especially cash-strapped backpackers.
“Yes, I’m asking. This is a disaster. Especially for those who have spent all their money,” he said. The governor is also coordinating with the immigration office to ensure the extension of visas for tourists forced to overstay due to the volcanic activity.
“We now have to find a hotel and spend more of our money that they’re not going to cover us for when we get home unfortunately,” said Canadian tourist Brandon Olsen, who was stranded at Bali’s airport with his girlfriend.
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